West Central Reporter

West Central Reporter

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Sen. McClure calls for hearings on inmate deaths at Menard Correctional Center

Local Government

By Dion M. Harris | Sep 20, 2019

Lawmakers, advocates and families say Illinois needs a bill requiring transparency in reporting prison deaths. | chris.dickerson@therecordinc.com

The Death In Custody Act will likely be resurrected next session, in light of new information about inmate deaths at Menard Correctional Center.

The legislation, HB 3090, was sponsored by Rep. Camille Lilly (D- Oak Park) in April, seven months after three Menard inmates died on suicide watch over three days. Toxicology reports were inconclusive, but the deaths were eventually determined “probable intoxication with an unknown, [synthetic cannabinoid] substance” by the coroner. 

Several prison employees were implicated, but all largely absolved of any wrongdoing. A guard who lied about making rounds on the suicide watch, where all three inmates died mysteriously, is still employed at the prison.

Illinois state Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield)

"House Bill 3090 was never given a vote," said freshman state Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield), who was unfamiliar with the legislation. "It never made it to the senate. It's been referred to the Rules Committee. It never got a vote in the House."

McClure is a former prosecutor who sits on the criminal law committee in the Illinois Senate. He noted that the revelations are recent.

"This bill was obviously filed before these most recent cases came to light," said McClure, whose work in the senate involves studying criminal law legislation and prisons. "It never had a chance. I’m one of those people who is concerned about that. These people have families who love them and they deserve to know what happened to their loved one while in custody. We need to be aware of those things."

Gov. J.B. Prizker has refused to say if he will support a transparency bill while reviewing how Illinois prisons investigate inmate deaths.

"No one can agree to support a bill without knowing what’s in the bill," McClure said. "We must hear from both sides. Will it actually help solve what may or may not be a problem? The answer is always in the details."

McClure thinks it is appropriate to hold hearings on these mysterious deaths, and to keep seeking the truth until something concrete is unearthed.

"The fact that anytime you get people dying in custody, something is wrong in the chain of command," he said. "[However], it’s very possible that we won’t learn any information about why these tragedies keep occurring." 

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Illinois State Representative Camille Y. Lilly Illinois State Senator Steve McClure

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